Leafing through the glossy pages of magazine editorials – including those contained in AnOther and Dazed – it’s highly likely that you will stumble across a piece of vintage costume jewellery supplied by Gillian Horsup dangling from a model’s ear or draped over a décolletage. It’s not difficult to see why Horsup is such a favourite with stylists and fashion editors – not only does she have an attuned eye for eclectic and unusual vintage earrings, bracelets, necklaces et al, but at 79 years old, the collector cuts a fabulous figure, with copper hair and a pair of gold Jean Cocteau-designed brooches pinned to her all-black ensemble.
“I trained as a teacher, and started doing this on the side, you see,” Horsup explains, of how her career began. “I started having an interest vintage jewellery because I lived in the east end of London and I didn’t have any money. So I used to go to the Jewish jumble sales in Bethnal Green. There were a lot of synagogues – and they weren’t rich synagogues – so all the richer ones sent their jumble down and I went and gathered up bits of jewellery.”
35 years on, and with periods of time spent selling her found treasures at Covent Garden Market, Greenwich Market and Camden Passage, Horsup has settled in Gray’s Antiques by Bond Street tube station (although, there are plans for her shop to relocate to Edgware Road imminently). Part of a collective of sellers named Vintage Modes, Horsup’s corner of the Gray’s complex is a cornucopia of costume jewellery from the 20th century; cabinets filled to the brim with 1920s and 1930s Art Deco trinkets, items made from celluloid, bakelite and Czech glass and a plethora 1980s gilt bling. It’s enough to send a magpie into hysterics. Here, Horsup shares some insider advice on where – and how – to look for head-turning vintage pieces.
1. A name isn’t always necessary
“I have a bit of Dior and a bit of Givenchy and a bit of YSL and that sort of thing at Vintage Modes – and this goes up to £150. We do have a few pieces if we have been able to buy them at that sort of price, but we don’t have £500 Chanel earrings, or whatever they would cost. I try and keep prices low. There are some pieces I sell for £12 – a petite, plastic ring for the little finger, for example. It doesn’t mean it’s any less special.”
2. Develop a network
“I have a network of people who know what I like and they bring me things – from house clearances, or if a relative has died. I am much more likely to buy that stuff than visitors off the street because they know what I like. And sometimes they bring it to me first and if I don’t buy it they take it to the markets. But I have to pay the right money for it. I don’t find bargains that way very often because, you know, they’ve saved it for me specially or brought it along. But it’s always exactly what I want.”
3. Trawl Facebook and vintage fairs
“I go to a big fair in Utrecht twice a year, and I have a friend in Berlin who sells at that fair and sometimes comes and stays with me and we look around London. You can look on the internet for different vintage fairs. Facebook is particularly useful. There are lots of groups you can join that direct you to the right place. For example, there is a cheap fair at Bethnal Green every now and again, selling stuff that affordable – very affordable. I go because I know one or two people working there and I know what I want. Sometimes I get some big, over the top earrings, but it’s also wonderful to buy clothes.”
5. Teach yourself to restore
“At the moment I’m helping to clear a shop in Spain that closed in 1972. They sold jewellery that was bought in Czechoslovakia before the war – but the problem is that the glues have disintegrated so I’m having to go to re-glue everything. I have to restore a lot of what I buy, but I taught myself how to do it. Again, it’s often through my Facebook groups – we all advise each other about experimenting with different glues. Not many jewellers will touch costume jewellery. I mean they know what they are doing with gold and silver, but with plastics, for example, it becomes a different situation that requires a bit of trial and error.”
6. Do your research
“I read all the time to really understand what I am buying. My whole house is full of fashion and art history books. And also I look on the internet but you have to be a little bit careful with what you read. I also speak with my friends – some of them are gemmologists – and we put our heads together and we decide what period something comes from. I also talk to my colleague June, another member of Vintage Modes, who sells clothes. She has such a fantastic knowledge about the styles of particular eras. It’s always important to get advice from other experts.”
Vintage Modes is located at Gray’s Antiques, 1-7 Davies Mews, Mayfair, London W1K 5AB.